Opinion

The NeverTrump third party delusion

Why plans to form a breakaway center-right party are doomed to fail

With the obvious exceptions of libertarians, who I am convinced do not breed in the wild, there is probably no political tendency more overrepresented in media relative to its actual share of the population than so-called "NeverTrump" Republicans. Every national newspaper in the country has at least one of these people on the opinion page; they are ubiquitous on cable television, and in the last four years they have created successors — The Bulwark, The Dispatch — to the established conservative publications at which they were all previously employed. (It turns out that all you actually need is some wealthy backers and a handful of willing hacks to do journalism — the "whole audience in Middle America whose worldview we represent" thing was always an unnecessary middle step.)

Good for them, I say. In 2021 I won't knock anyone's journalistic hustle. But I will not refrain from making the not very controversial point that there aren't enough people who broadly approve of tax cuts and bombing the hell out of the Middle East and opposing labor unions but don't like mean tweets to form a new political party.

This, according to a recent report, was the subject discussed in a Zoom meeting hosted last week by Evan McMullin (remember him?) with "dozens" of other NeverTrump Republicans. Binders full of these people met remotely to discuss the idea of creating a third party, to be called something like "Integrity" or "Center-Right." What animal would they select as their mascot, I wonder?

I was not surprised to learn that only 40 percent of those taking part in the call thought that forming a new party was actually a good idea. It's unworkable for a number of reasons. The first is simply that the existing two-party system is a very real part of our small-c constitution. A million structural disadvantages make it all but impossible for a third party to succeed even at the state level, much less in national politics. The best that proponents of third parties can hope for is something like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a pressure group with a national marketing profile but actual political power in a small handful of reliably Democratic congressional districts.

That is to say nothing of the problem alluded to above — namely, that no sizeable contingent of American voters share their aesthetic or nakedly personal objections to the GOP as it is presently constituted. Fifty or so former National Review editors and election consultants are not a political party — they're not even an NFL roster. Meanwhile, as I write this, 70 percent of Republicans say they would be less likely to support any senator who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. This might or might not be a good thing, but it is the reality on the ground in American politics.

But even this misses the real point, which is that the Ben Sasses of the world are every bit as crucial to the GOP's present coalition as the Louie Gohmerts. The party needs a respectable, PBS NewsHour-approved way of saying that the last thing struggling American families need is more money in their pockets in the same way that it needs backbench congressmen willing to go on fringe YouTube talk shows and discuss grainy security footage from ballot counting centers. This, in fact, is the whole point of political parties: disparate factions united by overlapping interests.

I have a sentimental weakness for third parties. In a merrier world, perhaps one in which we had a parliamentary system, four members of the Integrity Party could join the Austin and Brooklyn-based representatives of the DSA Furry Sex Work Caucus in Joe Biden's grand Democratic coalition before it is overturned by an alliance between the GOP and the Party of Q and a loose confederation of crypto-currency and tabletop RPG-based minor parties from the Bay Area.

In the meantime, though, one suspects that NeverTrumpers will be happy doing what some of them have been up to since the Tea Party era: writing opinion pieces about how vulgar everyone else who agrees with them is.

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